Here to replace the March 2012 "new iPad" (we'll call it iPad 3), the November 2012 "iPad with Retina Display" (we'll call it iPad 4) has ushered in what appears to be a new era of planned obsolescence at Apple. Like with the MacBook Pro, the iPad 4's biggest evolutions come in the form of processing power and connectivity.
It's the same aluminium body, the same 9.7-inch IPS display and the same 2048 x 1536 resolution, but the iPad 3's A5X processor has been pushed aside by the A6X, which Apple says delivers twice the punch. And just like the iPad Mini and iPhone 5, the decade-old 30-pin connector has made way for Apple's new Lightning port. The iPad 4 has the same rear camera as the iPad 3, a 5-Megapixel sensor with 1080p resolution. For the front webcam Apple has switched to a 1.3-Megapixel sensor to match the release of FaceTime HD. The iPad 4 comes running the iOS 6 operating system.
The iPad 4 starts at £399 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi version, then jumps from £479 for the 32 GB to £559 for the 64 GB... For the Wi-Fi + Cellular versions, add £100 to each model.
Design & Handling
The design, of course, is identical to the iPad 3, with a thin (9.4 mm) aluminium body that's dense enough to make the tablet feel solid and reliable.
The 4:3 aspect ratio is just practical as ever, especially for reading text (three cheers for Retina!). Physically speaking, the only difference between the March version iPad and this November version is that the 30-pin connector has been replaced with the Lightning port. The tiny connector is similar in size to micro-USB connectors and can be plugged in right-side-up or right-side-down (well, there is no right side—it just plugs in). But while the Lightning port works great on the iPhone and iPad Mini, as far as the iPad goes we have a little trouble picturing how an over-630-gramme device can hold up via a miniscule port on an accessory like a docking station without suffering damage over time...
One big plus with the iPad 4 is that even while playing resource-intensive video games it hardly heats up at all, at least in comparison with the last iPads.
Still today, we consider the iPad 3's screen to be a reference in touchscreen tablet displays. The incredibly accurate colours, decent contrast and gigantic pixel density make it the most effective tablet screen on the market. So, how does the iPad 4's display compare to the iPad 3's? Is the quality the same?
Not quite. First of all, let's make it clear that there's been no dramatic drop in screen quality (hence our five-star rating). But the results from our sensor show that the quality has indeed fallen slightly.
As mentioned earlier, the iPad 4 has an IPS Retina display with 2048 x 1536 resolution, which makes for 263 dots per inch. The average contrast on the iPad 4 is 853:1, compared to 930:1 on the iPad 3. That's still good, but it's far below the contrast you get on the Acer Iconia Tab A510 and Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700, which also have IPS displays, both averaging out at over 1000:1 contrast. The brightness on the iPad 4 reaches 344 cd/m², which is similar to the iPad 3. That's bright enough to make the screen legible in most places indoors and outdoors, but direct, unfiltered sunlight does considerably reduce the screen's legibility.
When it comes to colours the iPad 4 is still just as fearsome a contender, but it isn't quite as good as the iPad 3. With an average Delta E of 3.7, compared to 2.2 on the iPad 3, Apple's fourth-generation slate doesn't quite make it to the under-3 cut-off for accurate colours, but they're still more precise than on most tablets. The difference lies in the blue tones, which are far from accurate, while all the others are near-perfect. The iPad 4 is still one of the best tablets for consuming visual media in their intended colours.
The 20-millisecond ghosting time is just about average as iPads and IPS displays go. The 2048 x 1536 resolution offers tons of detail, which makes reading e-books, e-mails and web pages a real pleasure. The difference between this and the iPad 2 is remarkable. It's hard to go back to lower resolution once you get used to a display like this.
While the iPad 4's screen has greater legibility than its Full HD (1920 x 1080) Android competitors, such as the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 and the Acer Iconia Tab A510, it meets its match with the Google Nexus 10.
Google's Samsung-built 10.1-inch tablet has 2560 x 1600 resolution for a pixel density of 298 dots per inch.
Interface & Navigation
At first sight you can't necessarily tell the difference between the A5X and the new A6X processor and how well they run the OS. It was already fast to begin with, but you can tell that apps launch more quickly, there's less latency when switching from one app to another and big games take less time to load.
The whole system runs just as smoothly as before. In case you're wondering, the A6X's benchmark results (GL Benchmark, Sunspider, Browsermark, Quadrant...) confirm that this is one ultra-powerful processor.
Nothing much has changed in terms of multimedia, except that everything simply goes faster. Web browsing on the iPad is just as fun as ever and iOS 6 has enhanced the Safari experience even further. The Retina display shows loads of detail on web pages and you rarely need to use the zoom function in order to read content clearly, whether you're in landscape or portrait mode.
In fact, the best part about the iPad 4's multimedia capabilities is what's to come: in the near future we can expect to see new games that can really make full use of the processor's power.
We actually got our hands on the new Real Racing opus, which has been optimised for the A6X, and we have to say: we've never used any device that has come this close to seeming like a full-on gaming console. The game should be coming out in December, so if you end up getting the iPad 4, make sure and download it to see what Apple's new tablet is really capable of.
Apple says that even with the doubled processing power the battery life still holds at the usual 10 hours. And they're telling the truth. In practice the iPad 4 can last from 9 ½ to 10 ½ hours, either during continuous video playback or with varied usage (e-mails, games, surfing...). Naturally, more resource-demanding video games eat a precious amount of power, but they seem to consume less this time, surely due to better-integrated components and well-harnessed power.
The iPad 4 takes just as long to charge as the iPad 3: three hours.
- Retina display
- Small text is easy to read
- iOS 6 has tons of features
- Battery life
- Lots of apps
- A6X processor
- Non-expandable memory
- Proprietary port / Closed "world" that may turn some off
- Maps still behind the competition
- Will the tiny Lightning connector be sturdy enough for docking stations?
The iPad 4 is an update that definitively confirms Apple's tablet range as one of the very best there are. It has set things straight after an iPad 3 that was very good but wasn't quite a home run in terms of processing power and longevity. The iPad 4 is quite simply the most powerful tablet on the market right now, and perhaps for the months to come, with the largest and most varied selection of apps to enjoy.